While the spotlight was on AJ Allmendinger, winning a NASCAR Sprint Cup race for the first time in his career, the atmosphere and thoughts at Watkins Glen focused on the death of Kevin Ward Jr. and the absence of Tony Stewart, who changes his mind and decided not to take part of the race so shortly after the tragic accident that took a man’s life.
Initially, the word “on the street” was that Stewart, not charged with anything, would race as the chase is getting closer and it was crucial for him to take part in it. Who knows if pressure from the outside overwhelmed him, or was it him simply feeling that everything that’s happened doesn’t put him in the best position, and certainly not fit to drive at insane speeds while dodging other cars. Eventually, he didn’t take part in the race.
There was something sad, distant and somber about the atmosphere at the central New York State racing track. While the race, the chase, points and winning was something everyone were looking for, it seemed the minds of many were focused on something else. Kevin Ward wasn’t a NASCAR driver, but racing in general is a family, and it’s hard to ignore an accident and death that happened so recently and in the same state, even if it’s to someone most didn’t have any connection with.
As for the race, it was a weekend sweep from Allmendinger, something of a redemption for a man suspended two years ago after failing a random drug test. He finished ahead of Marcos Ambrose, Kurt Busch, Kyle Larson, Carl Edwards and Joey Logano, picking up his first Sprint Cup victory on the 213th time he has competed in a race under that flag, winning one for the one-man team of JTG Daugherty racing.
Jeff Gordon, dropping to second in overall points, led the race for the first 29 laps. However, the engine died on lap 50 as he lost all power and couldn’t get it refired. The finish was all about Allmendinger and Ambrose, who began the final five laps side-by-side, and after another stop it was Allmendinger’s turn to break through and leave Ambrose behind, still looking for his first Sprint Cup win this season.